Monday, October 20, 2014

Hill Times Promotes the 2014 Canadian Aerospace Summit

          by Chuck Black

Graphic c/o Hill Times.
The 50 year old, largely unofficial Canadian partnerships which tied together government, business and academia to define and inform our Canadian aerospace and space activities are about to split apart just in time for the expected Federal election tentatively scheduled for October 19th, 2015. And, the best place to watch the explosion is the fast approaching Canadian Aerospace Summit, which will be held in Ottawa, Ontario from November 18th - 19th.

But while it's an unlikely scenario, that's the subtext of the October 13th, 2014 Hill Times Aerospace Policy briefing, which looked at recent military procurement failures, the new Defence Procurement Strategy, the Canadian Space Agency's (CSA) quest to make the economic case for continued CSA funding and the possibility that the Liberal party could go into the next election as a "renewed voice" for traditional space advocates, especially if they're academics.

The briefing, with several authors writing a variety of articles on topics relating to Canadian aerospace and space activities, contains comments from Green Party MP Bruce Hyer, Liberal MP Joyce Murray, NDP MP Peggy Nash, Conservative Public Works minister Diane Finley and a variety of others.

The key article in the briefing is titled, "Government stalling on purchasing anything under new Defence Procurement Strategy before next election, critics say," and focused on how no purchases have been announced under the new policy since it was implemented earlier this year. The article quoted NDP MP Jack Harris as calling the old system a "shambles" and stating that delays in the implementation of the new system make it difficult to understand what the new strategy means.

A sample offset agreement, with a supplier providing 300 tanks for $400 million dollars, plus a series of direct and indirect offsets. Canadian offset agreements were once calculated in terms of  industrial and regional benefits (IRB) but a recent change in Federal legislation has replaced these credits with industrial and technological benefits (ITB). Graphic c/o Wikipedia.

According to the article, a key component of this new strategy is the replacement of the existing industrial and regional benefit (IRB) credits currently used to insure that economic dollars are spent in Canada for Canadian government programs, with more robust industrial and technological benefits (ITB) credits.

As outlined in the Industry Canada backgrounder on the "Value Proposition and Industrial and Technological Benefits," ITB credits will be mandatory, unlike IRB credits for which no formal enforcement mechanisms exist, and weighted as part of the contract negotiation process. According to the website, "bidders will be motivated to put forward their best industrial plan for Canada, as these plans will be scored on the quality of their Value Propositions."

Jean Christophe Boucher. Photo c/o MacEwan University.
The article also quoted Jean Christophe Boucher, an associate professor of political science at MacEwan University in Edmonton, AB as stating that the new rules reflect a "lack of knowledge" on the part of the government on how to effectively manage large military procurement projects and are also weighted towards industry needs at the expense of academia.

According to Boucher, academics will not "settle on being research assistants for industry." This academic perspective is reflected in two other Hill Times articles focused directly on the CSA.

The article "Liberals look to be a renewed voice for space sector amid cutbacks," focused directly on Liberal party members with direct ties to the CSA, such as former CSA president and current liberal MP Marc Garneau and past CSA director of planetary exploration/ current Liberal candidate for the PQ riding of Dorval-Lachine-LaSalle Alain Berinstain along with Liberal MP and industry critic Judy Sgro, who've suggested, but not quite made explicit, a variety of vague ideas to bolster CSA funding and re-establish the government agency as the go-to hub for space science activities in Canada.

Marc Garneau. Photo c/o
Left unsaid, of course, was any mention of the recent growth of private corporations or commercial space providers such  as SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, MacDonald Dettwiler (MDA), COM DEV International, UrtheCast and others who seem to be driving the current space agenda in Canada, the US and elsewhere or any specifics of the proposed alternative approach.

The second article, "Canadian Space Agency study to make economic argument for space investment," focused on the recent $285,000 CDN CSA contract to Euroconsult North America, a Montreal based consulting firm tasked with developing an "economic argument" for investing in the sort of science experiments the CSA is known for favoring. As outlined in the August 25th, 2014 post "Space Agency Seeks Insight into Space Industry" the finished report is scheduled for presentation to CSA and other government officials, but will not necessarily be released to the public, "by January 30th, 2015."

Justin Trudeau. Photo c/o CBC.
Of course, as outlined in the December 22nd, 2010 post, "Canada's Military Space Policy: Part 2, The Changing Political Landscape," the real history of Canada's space activities goes back to at least the 1960's when successive Liberal governments under Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Trudeau (father of current liberal leader Justin Trudeau) withdrew financial support from defence related space projects to concentrate on the development of commercial activities, starting with the domestic satellite communications system through private firms like Telesat Canada.

This focus on commercialization has remained consistent over the following fifty years even through changes of government and isn't likely to change anytime soon, no matter how many ex-CSA employees have managed to develop second careers in the Liberal party. That's also why there are no concrete policy options being discussed; there are simply none being considered. Even the CSA study is still in process and won't be finished before January 2015.

But for those of us who still think there is going to be a fight, the main players will be congregating at the Canadian Aerospace Summit, which will be held in Ottawa, Ontario from November 18th - 19th.

And for those of us who can't wait until November, the Hill Times Aerospace Policy Briefing is available online on the Hill Times website.

Ain't politics grand!

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